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SC body camera law spurred by Ferguson, state’s own shooting

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Prompted by the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, South Carolina legislators pre-filed bills in late 2014 regarding the use of body cameras, initially requiring all the state’s law officers to wear the devices and keeping the recordings for years.

Meetings were scheduled, and lawmakers began to discuss how such a policy could take shape in the state. But the issue didn’t pick up steam until after South Carolina had its own Ferguson-esque moment, when an unarmed black man was shot to death by a white police officer in North Charleston in April of this year.

Officer Michael Slager fired as 50-year-old Walter Scott tried to run away from a traffic stop in North Charleston on April 4. A bystander recorded the shooting on a dramatic cellphone video, fueling the debate about how white officers treat black people across the nation.

Slager was indicted in June on a murder charge and now faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted in Scott’s death. The U.S. Justice Department already is investigating whether there were civil rights abuses in Scott’s death, but the NAACP has also requested a wider investigation into what it calls racially biased policing in North Charleston.

The shooting spurred action on the issue. Two weeks after Scott was gunned down, House and Senate judiciary panels approved separate bills and sent them on to lawmakers for debate.

Ultimately, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law in June that specifies which officers will wear the cameras, when they should and should not be recording and how videos are stored. The policies must be approved by a statewide group of law enforcement professionals. Police departments are waiting for the state to approve money for the cameras.

The law also imposes some restrictions on public access to the recordings. Open records advocates have said that doesn’t provide enough accountability.

The issue became a central one for Clementa Pinckney, the state senator and pastor who was among nine slain at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June. Prior to his killing, Pinckney had spoken out about the killing of Scott and after viewing the video taken by a bystander.

“It has really created a real heartache and a yearning for justice,” Pinckney told fellow senators before he himself was shot to death on June 17.

 

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